All packaging needs to serve the purpose of protecting its contents, but there are examples where the packaging offers a distinct additional function that enhances its status above just simple protection. Here, we present examples where the innovation is in the creation of a new form or system to solve a packaging problem.
This section presents examples where the innovation is in the creation of a new form or system to solve a packaging problem. Although the resulting forms may offer their own particular aesthetic, this is considered secondary to the engineering solutions they provide. On a basic level, the majority of all packaging fits this category, though consumer rarely see it, as it tends to be used for the shipping of parts from factory to factory, or as large-format “secondary packaging” (external to the main container) that enables the primary to be shipped in large quantities without damage. Owing to cost constraints and sustainability considerations more and more packaging is solving these challenges through the use of “functional forms.”
Forms can reduce overall shipping volume or, as in the case of the AidPod, piggyback on existing delivery systems to provide much-needed wider dissemination. They can aid recycling, especially when considering the very common “hybrid” containers that use multiple materials to enhance performance. They are also able to create new ways to experience products, such as the Coffeebrewer, which through multilayering of materials enables easy and safe filtering of scalding hot coffee.
Materials play an essential part in this functionality, often as a secondary role to a new process, and other times as the driver of the innovation itself. For most packaging requirements, the need to keep costs to a minimum has meant that much innovation in materials has tended to be within value-based lightweight materials such as commodity plastics, paperboard, cardboard, and some metal foils. This constraint in materials has forced significant advancement in these areas in the last decade or so, with new fiber developments for papers, enhanced corrugation for cardboard, improved multilayers of metal, polymer, and paper foils, as well as better performance of polyolefins (the polyethylene PE and polypropylene PP family of thermoplastics) as well as polyesters (PET, PET-G) and to a certain extent polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It is worth noting, however, that the use of the latter versatile plastic has precipitously declined in this period owing to concerns (not always justified) around toxicity of some of the additives used (plasticizers called phthalates) and following end-of-life if burned for disposal. Desire for more sustainable solutions has also led to a rise in bioplastics, the addition of bio-based raw materials to plastics, and improved recycling. Most current bioplastics in packaging are based on bacterial interaction with starches such as polylactic acid (PLA) and the polyhydroxyalkanoates PHA, PHB, and PHBV. Basic starches that are by-products of the food industry are also being widely used as additives to oil-based commodity plastics to reduce petrochemical use and to enhance potential biodegradability and compostability. Recyclability is also being made easier with greater use of a single polymer in multiple parts such as PP, as well as “pull apart” solutions for hybrid packages.
The dividing line between molded paper pulp, such as seen for egg containers, and injection-molded plastics has become more blurred, with injection-molded parts being created using paper fibers with little or no plastic, and also parts that might look like molded pulp but are in fact predominantly plastic or bioplastic. Wood or paper fibers (cellulose-based) are being modified through treatment to bond better to each other, to withstand more aggressive environments (chemical, water, heat, etc.), and even to pass leather standard tests.
When a single layer of plastics or paper cannot give sufficient performance, multiple layers of different materials are able to provide a synergistic effect with little increase in weight or cost. Developed predominantly for food preservation but now finding wider application in medical-, pharmaceutical-, and consumer-product packaging, these multilayer film structures are able to block or allow the passage of gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and ethylene, protect against UV, and make the surface more printable, more reflective, softer, quieter, or even electronically interactive. Individual polymer layers can be as thin as 0.5 microns (plastic wrap or cling film, is 12 microns; a human hair ranges from 20 to 180 microns), and metal foils at 0.2 microns are routinely used, becoming light-translucent at this thickness. Anything less than half a micron will typically need to be supported by a thicker “strength layer,” which may not have any function beyond acting as a supporting substrate for the functional layers above and below.
Adapted from the book Material Innovation: Packaging Design by Andrew H. Dent and Leslie Sherr